Justia U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election Law
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The First Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court rejecting Appellants' facial challenge to the Rhode Island comprehensive statutory scheme designed to increase transparency in regard to election-related spending, holding that there was no error.The law at issue required limited disclosure of funding sources responsible for certain independent expenditures and electioneering communications. Appellants challenged the disclosure an disclaimer provisions, arguing that the provisions did not withstand the required degree of scrutiny and infringed on constitutionally protected free-speech, privacy, and associational rights. The trial court dismissed the complaint. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the challenged aspects of Rhode Island's disclosure and disclaimer regime were constitutional. View "Gaspee Project v. Mederos" on Justia Law

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In this case involving a consent judgment and decree entered on July 30, 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, effective for the September and November 2020 elections suspending Rhode Island's requirement that a voter using a mail ballot mark the ballot in the presence of two witnesses or a notary, the First Circuit reversed in part the district court's order denying a motion to intervene filed by the Republican National Committee and the Republican Party of Rhode Island (jointly, Republicans) and denied the Republicans' motion to stay the judgment and consent decree pending the outcome of the appeal, holding (1) the concerns in Purcell v. Gonzalez, 549 U.S. 1, 5 (20016), that would normally support a stay are largely inapplicable and even militate against a stay; and (2) as to the Republicans' status as intervenors, the district court's order denying intervention is reversed in part. View "Common Cause Rhode Island v. Rhode Island Republican Party" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law
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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing Appellants' complaint challenging the constitutionality of the winner-take-all method for selecting presidential electors that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts adopted, holding that Appellants failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.Pursuant to its constitutional authority, Massachusetts enacted a statutory scheme that provides for the appointment of electors for president and Vice President on a winner-take-all (WTA) basis. Appellants sued the Commonwealth challenging the constitutionality of the WTA system as applied in Massachusetts, arguing that the WTA method violates their right to an equally weighted vote under the Equal Protection Clause as well as their associational rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The district court dismissed the complaint for lack of standing and failure to state a claim. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) Appellants did have standing to bring their claims; but (2) Appellants failed to state a claim for relief under either of their constitutional theories. View "Lyman v. Baker" on Justia Law

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The State of New Hampshire requires that political parties seeking to have their nominees listed on statewide election ballots demonstrate that one of its candidates received at least four percent of the statewide vote for Governor or United States Senator in the most recent prior statewide election. Alternatively, a party must submit nomination papers signed by a number of registered voters at least equal to three percent of the total votes cast in the most recent state general election. In 2014, New Hampshire reduced the time period during which New Hampshire law allows parties to gather nomination signatures and submit nomination papers from twenty-one months to seven months. In this suit, the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire (LPNH) claimed that the shortened window for gathering signatures violated its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The district court concluded that the undisputed facts did not establish a violation of LPNH’s asserted constitutional rights. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that New Hampshire’s regulations are a constitutional exercise of the state’s power over the election process. View "Libertarian Party of New Hampshire v. Gardner" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law
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On the fifth time before the First Circuit, Plaintiff, a United States citizen-resident of Puerto Rico, and his fellow plaintiffs challenged the denial of the right of Puerto Rico citizens to vote for representatives to the U.S. House of Representatives and their right to have five Puerto Rico representatives apportioned to that body. Plaintiffs further contended that the district court erred in refusing to convene a three-judge court to adjudicate their claims. When Plaintiff first raised the issue of congressional representation, a panel majority concluded that they were bound by past circuit decisions to find that Plaintiffs were not constitutionally entitled to the claimed right by means other than those specified for achieving statehood or by amendment. The First Circuit, noting that it was bound by precedent, affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err in refusing to convene and three-judge court and dismissing the case on the merits; but (2) the three-judge-court issue should be reconsidered by the full court in an en banc rehearing of this case. View "Igartua v. Obama" on Justia Law

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In 2014, New Hampshire amended a statute by forbidding citizens from photographing their marked ballots and publicizing those photographs (referred to as “ballot selfies”). Three New Hampshire citizens filed suit, arguing that the statute was a content-based restriction of speech that, on its face, violates the First Amendment. The district court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. On appeal, the New Hampshire Secretary of State argued that the statute was justified to prevent vote buying and voter intimidation. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the statute as amended is facially unconstitutional even applying only intermediate scrutiny, and the statute’s purposes cannot justify the restrictions it imposes on speech. View "Rideout v. Gardner" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Plaintiffs brought this action arguing that they were unlawfully removed from the Commonwealth’s active voter registry for having failed to vote in the 2008 election for Resident Commissioner. On interlocutory appeal, the First Circuit held that the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) bars Puerto Rico from removing voters from the registry for the office of Resident Commissioners unless they fail to participate in the preceding two general federal elections. On remand, the district court found in favor of Plaintiffs and issued injunctive and declaratory relief from removing otherwise eligible voters from the active election registry unless HAVA's requirements are met. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the National Voter Registration Act does not apply to Puerto Rico and thus does not supersede the Commonwealth’s voter deactivation procedures; (2) HAVA invalidates the deactivation procedures of Article 6.021 of Puerto Rico Act No. 2011 insofar as it applies to voter eligibility for federal elections; and (3) Plaintiffs may bring a private cause of action seeking relief under HAVA pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983. View "Colon-Marrero v. Garcia-Velez" on Justia Law

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Appellant, a student at Brown University, was suspended for three semesters after a number of students and staff submitted complaints regarding his behavior. Appellant filed an eleven-count complaint in the district court of Rhode Island against the University, numerous individuals associated with the University, and its police department (collectively, Appellees), alleging, among other claims, that Appellees’ conduct during his disciplinary proceeding and during his removal from campus violated his constitutional rights and state law. The district court entered judgment in favor of Appellees. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court did not err by (1) finding that the University was not a state actor subject to federal jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. 1983; (2) granting Appellees’ motion to amend their answer to include a statute of limitations defense; and (3) disposing of Appellant’s claims on Appellees’ motions to dismiss and for summary judgment, as the Rhode Island tolling statute did not toll Appellant’s claims. View "Klunder v. Brown University" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was an otherwise qualified voter in Puerto Rico who was removed from the voter registration roll because she did not vote in the 2008 general election. Plaintiff filed suit on September 12, 2012, seeking a preliminary injunction to redress that removal. The injunction would have required the government to reinstate more than 300,000 voters to the registration roll in time for the federal election on November 6, 2012. The district court denied Plaintiff's request. The First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's denial of the preliminary injunction, holding that the record and the parties' arguments failed to demonstrate that such extraordinary relief could be granted only weeks before the election without creating uncertainty and confusion in the Puerto Rico electoral process. Although the Court recognized the importance of Plaintiff's claims in this case, the Court declined to jeopardize the electoral process as a whole by acting precipitously on evolving claims that had not yet been adequately analyzed or developed by Plaintiff. View "Colon-Marrero v. Conty-Perez" on Justia Law

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Appellant Ivan Gonzalez-Cancel aspired to run for Governor of Puerto Rico as Partido Nuevo Progresista's ("PNP") candidate in the 2012 general election. When he applied for the job, however, PNP said he was not qualified. Gonzalez-Cancel and Jose Barbosa, a supporter of Gonzalez-Cancel's candidacy, sued PNP and Puerto Rico's Elections Commission in federal court, alleging that the decision violated their constitutional rights. The district court dismissed the complaint for lack of jurisdiction, concluding that Appellants' claims did not fall within one of the few narrow exceptions required for a federal court's intervention in state or local electoral disputes. The First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the exercise of federal jurisdiction over this election dispute was not appropriate. View "Gonzalez-Cancel v. Partido Nuevo Progresista" on Justia Law